Opinion | What Gandhinagar ticket holds for Amit Shah
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to field its president, Amit Shah, from Gujarat’s Gandhinagar is way bigger than announcing a mere candidature. It’s a hand dealt for a pecking order that’ll formalise Shah’s de facto number two status in the event of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to power.
If it is for the sitting Gandhinagar MP and former deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, the end of the road, for Shah, it seems the beginning of the lastmile-lap to his dream destination. Controversies never deterred him from aspiring to be to Modi what Advani was to AB Vajpayee —the second among equals to the PM’s first.
In that sense, Shah is on track to becoming the BJP’s LKA-2. Even his worst critics do not doubt his electoral prospects in Gandhinagar, a constituency he knows like the back of his palm. He ran Advani’s poll campaign there for most of the six elections he contested and won between 1991 and 2014.
He also was Vajpayee’s major domo when he successfully contested the seat in 1996.
Not just that. The Sarkhej seat Shah represented in the Gujarat legislature was, until delimitation, the largest assembly segment of the Gandhinagar parliamentary seat, and has been a BJP fief since the 1989 victory of Shankarsinh Vaghela who later joined the Congress.
Comparisons can be disagreeable. Never mind the rough edges, Shah qualifies to be a latter day Advani --who cultivated at his zenith an exaggerated strongman image to evoke and claim the political inheritance of Sardar Patel. His writ then ran with as much force as Shah’s runs today in the government and the party.
That was Loh Purush’s time, now it is Chanakya’s. Like Vajpayee-Advani, the Modi-Shah duo has their roles defined: the former the popular face, the latter the organisational muscle and armour.
A rewind to the Advani era would make Shah’s work style look strikingly similar. He’s secretive, autocratic and ruthlessly pragmatic. That’s the way the former was at his prime, especially when leading the Ram Temple movement in the 1990s.
Regardless of who held the BJP president’s office, Advani’s grip on the party organisation was matched only by his omnipresence in the Home Ministry. During his tenure, senior officials would discourage journalists from visiting them in the North block. I had one such experience with a special secretarylevel officer I’d known for years. His cryptic explanation: Here the big man is always watching.
Advani’s fall began when he tried to merge his radical past with Vajpayee’s liberal veneer. The Sangh Parivar was up in arms when he called Jinnah secular during a 2005 visit to the mausoleum of the architect of Pakistan in Karachi. He somehow managed to survive the RSS’s wrath, became the BJP’s PM face in the 2009 polls but failed to lead the party to victory.
His fate was sealed eventually when he opposed Modi’s PM candidature in the 2014 elections that saw the BJP wrest power with a majority of its own. The outcome heralded a new chapter under the new Modi-Shah order.
Advani suddenly was distant history.